Bill would end these high school end-of-course exams

A bill that would eliminate the majority of high school end of course exams, allow schools to give the remaining statewide tests in a paper-and-pencil format and seeks to take student test scores out of the grading equation for teachers and schools has begun to make the rounds in Florida’s capital.

Sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also runs the state superintendents association, the bill has bipartisan backing.

The last time a test was eliminated

Anti-testing sentiment has been brewing statewide, as it has nationally, for years. Two years ago, Gov. Rick Scott acknowledged that students in public schools have to take too many tests and then cut one of them from the line up: the state’s language arts test for high school juniors. He also tweaked some rules that put the burden of chipping away further tests on the districts while the state lineup remained the same.

Montford’s bill (SB  964/HB 1249) has considerably more breadth.

It would eliminate the Florida Standards Assessment in grade 9, all end-of-course exams except for Algebra 1 and Biology. It seeks to find alternates for other statewide exams in high school, such as the ACT or SAT.

It would push testing back to the last weeks of the school year.

And, by allowing for pencil-and-paper testing, it could free up weeks of time in classrooms. (Because schools don’t have the computers or bandwidth to test all students at once, testing schedules are currently weeks-long windows during which students rotate through testing.) 

“This is the first time since the 1999 passage of the A+ bill that we’ve had a bipartisan bill that, in Sen. (David) Simmons‘ words, restores sanity in teaching and testing,” said Vern Pickup-Crawford, who is lobbying on behalf of the Palm Beach County School District.

It isn’t the only legislation that purports to respond to the appeals to dial back testing.

About a month ago, three lawmakers unveiled what they have dubbed the “Fewer, Better Tests” legislation, a name that is a nod to its supporters in Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Despite its name, that legislation (SB 926/ HB 773) doesn’t explicitly do away with any state required exam.

It seeks to examine the possibility of replacing tests required for high school graduation with the ACT or SAT college entrance exams, if they align with Florida’s standards.  It also pushes testing back closer to the end of the school year and seeks quicker turn around for test results.

Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican scheduled to become speaker of the House after the 2020 elections was quoted by News Service of Florida: 

“We got the message from parents and teachers about how they feel about the testing process, the anxiety that some of their students feel, and really the common-sense approach of what kind of tools they need to make sure that their children and their students are getting a year’s worth of learning in a year’s worth of time.”

A critic’s take

Testing critic Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the group FairTest, calls Montford’s legislation “a step in the right direction.”

“It is a much better bill from an assessment reform standpoint in that it actually does something. Florida is among the worst (states) in test use and over use. The Montford bill is an attempt for compromise and it somewhat reflects concerns of the grass roots assessment reform movement.”

Those concerns? The volume of testing and the consequences.

“It’s very impressive that he was able to get that many Republicans, significant Republicans, to break the Jeb Bush lockstep.”

Montford’s co-sponsors: Community Affairs chairman and former Senate president Tom Lee, R-Brandon; Education committee vice chairwoman Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach; Children, Families and Elder Affairs chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah; and Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando.

An identical version of the bill was filed in the House by Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello.

Still, Schaeffer isn’t getting his hopes up.

“I think it’s a good start. Tallahassee is starting to listen,” Schaeffer said. But it’s not enough to write the bill, it must move forward. “It’s whatever leadership decides. I don’t know that (they) have made this a priority.”

 

Update: Teachers accused of giving hints on state tests fired

testing

 

Update:  The school board agreed to fire the teachers. The item was on a consent agenda and passed without comment at Wednesday’s special meeting. For more details see the full story here. 

 

A thumbs-up here, a grumble or tap there have put the careers of two Palm Beach County elementary school teachers in peril after district investigators concluded they were tipping off third graders to right and wrong answers as the children sat for the statewide math exam last spring.

The investigation into the separate incidents at different schools began when students described their experience to other teachers — in one case within hours of putting down their No. 2 pencils, in the other within weeks of the test.

Throughout the investigations, both teachers denied breaking the rules, according to documents released by the Palm Beach County School District Tuesday. Neither teacher, nor their attorneys, replied to requests for comment Tuesday.

Sanders has worked for the district for 11 years; Rios logged eight years. Should the board approve the recommendations, both would lose their jobs effective Feb. 3.

 

See the full story, including excerpts of what their students said when questioned, here. 

 

 

 

 

 

i-Ready or not? $5.6M software targets reading, math but doesn’t play on tablets yet

computerIdeally, i-Ready, the school district’s new $5.6 million software program, can hone in on why Johnny can’t read this passage or do that math and then give him lessons and tasks to build the missing skills.

But in the weeks since school began, a message went out to some parents that not only would the schools be using this technology, but students would have to spend time using it at home as well.  According to some reports, the message to parents  was this is a “mandate.”

And this is where trouble began. The program, at this moment, doesn’t run on tablets or phones, only desktop and laptop computers.

District administrators say there is no use-at-home mandate.

This was a case of miscommunication.

“We can’t, we wouldn’t require this at home. It’s an equity in access issue,” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said.

Adds curriculum director Diana Fedderman, “We’re taking this opportunity to clarify that that expectation is not realistic. We know we have children who don’t have devices at home.” The option may be available in the coming months.

Still, the backlash reached the ears of School Board Vice Chairman Frank Barbieri. And while acknowledging a “miscommunication” fueled this conversation, he said he still has concerns:

Why did staff go with a program that isn’t compatible with the most popular handheld devices? If the program was intended to be used only in the classroom, was that the right investment?  Couldn’t the district leverage the size of its impending purchase to make sure the company, Curriculum Associates,  delivered on promises to make it compatible in the coming months?

“I’m kind of discouraged that this information was not presented to the board,” said Barbieri, adding that if the program had been presented to the board’s academic advisory council these concerns would’ve been addressed before the board voted.

Christiansen and instructional staff at the district offices say they hear Barbieri’s concerns. They say they believe they have chosen the right program and are optimistic that by mid-school-year, it will deliver tablet and phone access at home.

(Note: Even software that works on all devices won’t resolve the huge issue of lack of Internet services to homes of the district’s poorest students.)

Some 33 elementary schools already had i-Ready in some classrooms in some grades last year.

They paid for it out of their own budgets. And while they used i-Ready, other schools used similar technology, each a little different from the other with names like iStation or Reading Plus.

They are all in a class of what’s called “adaptive” technology. Such technology is supposed to detect students’ strengths and weaknesses, plotting the next question based on how the last was answered.

All the while, these programs churn out reports to teachers and schools about student abilities and suggest lessons to direct the student to mastering the skills.

Because not all schools used i-Ready in the same way or in the same grades, the district doesn’t have a pile of data on how it worked across those schools, Christiansen said.

Still, Jeff Pegg, who served as principal at Wynnebrook Elementary for the past 16 years, gives i-Ready high marks.

As principal at the A-rated West Palm Beach school where more than 9 of every 10 students can’t afford lunch, Pegg used $7,200 in Title 1 money to put the program in his grade 3, 4 and 5 classrooms.

The program does have educational game apps that can be played on tablet or phone, but the full experience, including lessons and feedback that report back to the teacher, is available only on a desktop or laptop for now.

To give Wynnebrook students other opportunities to log on, the school library and  computer labs were available after school, Pegg said.

“We loved it because it lined up with the standards,” said Pegg, now an instructional superintendent.

To Pegg, the district’s move to buy the same program for all elementary schools and all grades from kindergarten through fifth grade delivers equity of opportunity for students and saves money by buying in bulk.

It also puts all the schools on the same page. Previously, 47 different computer-based programs were running in the elementary schools, the district reports.

“Many were not connected to what kids needed to learn. They weren’t standards aligned,” said Christiansen, who is working toward the district’s long-term goal of improving third grade reading scores.

Nearly half of the county’s third graders did not pass Florida’s English language arts test last spring.

The district is requiring students spend 45 minutes a week in class on i-Ready’s language program and another 45 minutes in the math program.

This is done during what teachers have long referred to as “center time” or “rotations” when the class is broken into small groups, Pegg said. The teacher works with one small group, while others are at computers or other stations throughout the room.

In August, i-Ready became one of three adaptive technology programs Florida approves to be used as a route to promotion from the third to fourth grade when a student fails the statewide English language arts test, known as the FSA.

In today’s world of online reviews of everything, i-Ready has both critics and defenders.

Criticisms, some to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt because they are keyed in by students who have difficulty avoiding run-on sentences, range from glitches during use to lame graphics.

On one teacher forum, a Hagen Road Elementary teacher that commented his students liked it. While a teacher at Waters Edge Elementary pined for more classroom computers on which to run it. But commenters also list concerns about fitting such programs into the school day and the advisability of 90-minute mandates.

Barbieri said he has assurances the approval process will be more inclusive next time. His conclusion on the program: “I believe the administration made the right decision with i-Ready.

(Due to an error in information provided, a previous version of this story stated the purchase was $5.3 million).

Florida test scores, end of course exam results due this week

cap-and-diploma-533027-mSchool may be out for summer, but final grades for most high schoolers are not. They can’t be calculated until the scores come back on Florida’s various end-of-course exams, which by law must account for 30 percent of a course grade.

The courses:  Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Biology, U.S. History and Civics.

By law, those scores (and the Florida Standards Assessment results) are supposed to be released this week – the week of June 8.

Some have expressed concern for some of the more than 12,000 students who graduated in recent weeks. Right now, their transcripts are stamped “unofficial.” Are they able to proceed to college courses this summer without a final grade?

Palm Beach State College spokeswoman Grace Truman says they can at PBSC.

“We give them an override for two semesters because they can enroll now for the fall as well,” Truman said. “We don’t wait for them to have it in hand. In the past, we’d make them wait until Summer B (the second session of summer classes), but we don’t even do that now.”

Truman said PBSC, which began summer classes May 16, counts nearly 21,000 students enrolled this summer, a four percent growth over last year. That is contrary to what she said was a statewide trend of lower enrollments.

Florida Atlantic University officials say they too are OK with graduates enrolling in summer with unofficial transcripts.

Is there a statewide policy for the institutions in the state university system? No. Each university is handling it locally. “Our feedback from the universities admissions directors is that this is not an issue – they work with the student,” a spokeswoman from the State University System of Florida said in an email Thursday morning.

Florida stops rating preschools, but how does its pre-K program rate?

The state has put a hold on rating the preschool providers who deliver Florida’s Voluntary PreKindergarten program to thousands of 4-year-olds.  The full story on what went wrong is here.

But how does Florida’s program as a whole rate?

In its most recent state rankings for pre-school (2013-14), the National Institute for Early Education Research out of Rutgers University gave Florida mixed reviews:

No. 3 in access to 4-year-olds (D.C. and Vermont rated higher) – but  at the bottom for 3 –year-olds because they aren’t served.

No. 36 by state spending

No. 37 on overall spending (that includes other money sources including federal programs)

3 of 10 on quality.

The institute ranked states on access for 4-year-olds, 3-year-olds, how much the state spends on its program, and how it fares on a 10-item checklist of program quality. The checklist asks does a state set learning standards, require teachers with a degree or specialized training, sets maximum class sizes and what that maximum is, wat is the staff-to-child ratio and more.

Map from NIEER's 2014 State of Preschool Yearbook.
Map from NIEER’s 2014 State of Preschool Yearbook.

Top spenders were D.C. and New Jersey which invested more than $15,000 and $12,000 per student compared to Florida’s $2,200 that year. Florida’s per student spending has increased to $2,437 this year.

Florida was among six states to meet fewer than half of the 10 benchmarks. The others include California, Ohio, Vermont, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Florida got credit for setting early learning standards, having class sizes that topped out at 20 and conducting site visits to ensure the standards are met. The state does not require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, require classroom assistants to have a child development certification or offer at least 15 hours of in-service training. In the 2013-14 school year, the state’s pre-k providers were not held to a staff-child ratio of 10:1 or better, required to screen for vision, hearing and health or required to offer at least one meal.

 

 

 

Report: Chinese cheating on SAT; unlikely to stop with new version

testingStudents taking the SAT college entrance exam in China have gotten a huge advantage over students here in the U.S. – they’ve gotten copies of some of the questions and even sometimes the whole test. It’s an ongoing problem throughout Asia, according to multiple news agencies including the Wall Street Journal.

But this week,  Reuters reports the problem hasn’t been fixed with the arrival of the new version of the test that premiered this month and will be given again in May. It seems some of the tests questions continue to be recycled – and in some cases leaked.

See our full story about that new version of the SAT here. 

Further, according to the news agency’s report, it has happened more than the test’s maker, the non-profit College Board, has admitted.

In addition to breaches the College Board has acted upon, Reuters counts eight other times since late 2013 that questions have circulated online before the exam was administered overseas.

Apparently, survival in the Asian test-prep market is dependent on plumbing for copies of test questions. One test-prep consultant that Reuters spoke to compared it to doping in the Tour de France: “If you don’t do it, someone else will.”

How do the cheats get a hold of the test?  According to Reuters, some test-prep centers send folks in undercover to memorize or photograph its contents. And sometimes U.S. teens spill valuable details on social media.

The College Board told Reuters it “would never move forward with a test administration … without the full confidence that we can maintain the integrity of the exam and deliver to our member colleges and universities valid scores.”

In the past, it has cancelled tests when a leak was suspected. It has also held scores when cheating was suspected on a test already administered.

The next test date in the U.S. is May 7, 2016.

According to Reuters: “About 64,000 students took the SAT in East Asia during the 2013-2014 school year, including 29,000 from China. And some 125,000 mainland Chinese undergraduates now attend U.S. universities.

The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2015: A record 886,052 overseas students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities in 2013-2014, with the largest number — 274,439 — being Chinese nationals, according to the Institute of International Education.

 

Students must wait until mid-May for SAT results – but they liked the changes, says College Board

testingStudents aren’t due to get the results of last week’s new SAT until mid-May. But the College Board is reporting the results of a survey of some 8,000 of those test-takers Saturday.

According to the College Board:

  • 71% of students said the test reflected what they’re learning in school.
  • By a 6 to 1 margin, students said they preferred the format of the new SAT over the previous version of the test.
  • 75% of students said the Reading Test was the same as or easier than they expected.
  • 80% of students said the vocabulary on the test would be useful to them later in life, compared with 55% in March 2015.
  • 59% of students said the Math section tests the skills and knowledge needed for success in college and career.

 

And if you longingly missed all that obscure vocabulary that once littered the college admissions exam, here’s a fun read: The College Board’s announcement when it ditched the ‘recondite’ litany.

 

New York — Throughout its 100-year history, the abstruse vocabulary words of the SAT® have engendered prodigious vexation in millions of examinees annually. On Saturday, Jan. 23, students across the country participated in the terminal transpiration of the SAT in its habituated gestalt.

To adumbrate the changes to be manifest in future administrations of the assessment: The new SAT will be more trenchant and pellucid, and the format will no longer pertinaciously reward students who punctiliously engage in the antediluvian praxis of committing idiosyncratic words to memory.

College Board President David Coleman promulgated, “Your invectives and maledictions have been heard. Clemency has been granted.”

Many within the College Board and the academic community expressed a paucity of maudlin or mawkish emotion in response to the announcement.

“This is a new beginning for the SAT. Gone are obscure vocabulary words and tricky logic questions that are disconnected from the work students do every day,” said Stacy Caldwell, vice president of the SAT Program at the College Board. “Moving forward, students will encounter a test that focuses on the few things that matter most for college, work, and life. We believe these changes will benefit students and educators alike.”

 

 

 

Didn’t pass Alg 1 EOC (or the 10g FSA )? Here are your options

questions

 

Update March 2017: The testing season is in full swing with Alg 1 testing possible in Palm Beach County from April 17 through May 12, 2017. Expect results in early June.

The Alg 1 end-of-course exam (EOC) is the only state-required EOC a student must pass to graduate. Students must also take EOCs in Geometry, Alg. 2, biology and US History. The scores must weigh 30 percent of the calculation of a course grade, but a passing score is not required. (Legislation this spring proposes to cut some EOCs, but any testing changes would not be in effect this year.)

The other must-pass test for graduation: 

The 10th grade FSA ELA – that’s Florida Standards Assessment in English language arts, is the other state-mandated test students must pass to graduate.

So, let’s say you don’t pass…

WHAT’S NEXT?

Didn’t pass the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam or the 10th grade English/language arts test? These are your alternatives:

Take the same test and pass. Retakes are given several times a year.

Algebra 1: Get a comparative score of 97 on the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test or PERT mathematics assessment.

10 grade English/language arts:

Take the same test and pass. Retakes are given during the school year.

ELA: Get a concordant score of 430 on the SAT reading or 19 on the ACT reading.

Source: The Florida Department of Education.